Student housing could fix problematic College Park bar scene
College Park officials want to shut down popular student bar The Thirsty Turtle after three people got stabbed there earlier this month. In the long run, College Park could best address its bar problems if it stopped fighting every student housing proposal.
I went to the University of Maryland and lived in College Park for four years, but never set foot in the Thirsty Turtle until a week before my graduation. As I wrote in my then-weekly column for the Diamondback, I was put off by the atmosphere, the music, and the obviously underage crowd.
But I can't blame the Thirsty Turtle's owners for turning a blind eye to underage drinking. After all, they can't stay in business without getting bodies on the dance floor, and the majority of the people living within walking distance of the bar are under 21. Housing in College Park has been increasingly difficult to find as more and more students choose to live close to school, yet the City of College Park continues to fight new proposed student housing developments tooth and nail. In many ways, they're the reason why downtown College Park is so gross.
The University no longer guarantees on-campus housing to upperclassmen, meaning that many have to live off campus. The most logical place for students to look would be in downtown and Old Town College Park, the only neighborhoods within walking distance of school. Rentals make up more than three-fourths of all housing in Old Town, according to University of Maryland Off-Campus Housing Services and research by Rethink College Park. Landlords say that there are far fewer vacancies in Old Town than in "further out" areas.
As a junior, I was lucky enough to find an new, clean apartment on Knox Road, maybe a thousand feet from Thirsty Turtle and the rest of downtown College Park. But many of my friends ended up in one of the few new student apartment complexes in the city, which are able to charge astronomical rents because of limited supply and the notion that all college students need granite countertops and tanning beds. Those who didn't want or couldn't afford to live there landed in single-family homes situated well away from campus, in neighborhoods like North College Park or outside the city, in University Park, Hyattsville or Berwyn Heights.
Of course, many students move to these areas by choice. Student housing in downtown College Park is often run-down and unsafe. Because of their proximity to the bars and fraternities and sororities, many of these houses host loud parties on the weekends. If you're not into that scene, you have to look elsewhere. The student population is not a monolith, but the available housing in downtown or Old Town College Park only attracts certain kinds of students, and the amenities that locate there reflect that.
Rethink College Park has made a strong case for why more student housing is needed in Old Town and how wrong local leaders are in opposing it. For years, the city of College Park has been trying to draw business to downtown with a proposed boutique hotel and a parking garage that usually sits empty.
If we actually want a nice downtown where bars don't have to accept underage patrons and stores don't close after a few months, we need more students living there. Build for everyone, and everyone will come, not just the kids who'll take a rat-trap apartment because it's within stumbling distance of a bar.
Thirsty Turtle's practices may be wrong, but they're as much the result of lax oversight as they are of a college town that insists that students don't have a place there. College Park's leaders should recognize that and find an approach to redevelopment that includes the kids who gave the town its name.
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